June 19, 2021

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Just Do Travel

7 Of Italy’s Most Affordable And Beautiful Beach Resorts

8 min read
The beaches and Santa Maria dell’Isola monastery in Tropea, a seaside town in Calabria. Getty...

With the EU preparing to let qualified visitors from outside the bloc visit for leisure travel, and Italy announcing a “green pass” to be available from mid-May, a seaside holiday in the country will soon be possible for many for the first time since 2019. While a number of resort destinations are already seeing robust bookings, consider that with a long and varied coastline, Italy can offer, in addition to its famed beach havens, many beautiful and affordable spots that are lesser known among international travelers.

Here, Italy experts Philip Curnow, founder of Delicious Italy, a Rome-based site specializing in the country’s travel and food; Francesca Montillo, a culinary instructor, author and tour planner who heads up Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures; and Cassandra Santoro, owner of Travel Italian Style, a company specializing in custom Italian itineraries, discuss some of their preferred summer resorts for maximizing travel dollars and euros.

While these destinations won’t attract the number of visitors typically found pre-pandemic on the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, “they will be busy during peak summer months,” says Montillo. “Going to the beach in Italy is a way of life, and what just about every Italian looks forward to all year long.” But she points out that as many of these resorts will be frequented by Italians “there’s still a sense of authenticity to the experience.”

PUGLIA: OTRANTO

Francesca Montillo: “In my opinion Otranto is one of the most charming cities in the region. The pristine waters look magnificent against the whitewashed buildings, the sand is fine and white, and the breeze makes it an opportune location for windsurfers. The beaches are not very big, so in peak season get there early to secure your spot. Porto Badisco and Frassanito Beach are recommended. Moving away from the beach, the town itself is very interesting. The Otranto Cathedral, Aragonese Castle and Church of St. Peter are a must if spending any time here.”

For lodging Montillo suggests the Hotel Miramare, which is “right on the water and reasonably priced. Rooms are ample, service is good and the staff is friendly. Corte di Nettuno is conveniently located steps from the water, offers great amenities, has bi-lingual staff and a great garden.”

CAMPANIA: SANTA MARIA DI CASTELLABATE

Philip Curnow: “Santa Maria Castellabate is a fishing village along the Cilento coast with an historic center and the tower of Palazzo Perrotti built at the edge of the water. The backdrop remains so eye-catching it famously provided locations for the film, Benvenuti al Sud. And what a beach. Punta Licosa is widely regarded as having some of the clearest water in the Tyrrhenian Sea, perfect for diving. The flat sands made fishing easy. Porte le Gatte is still the spot where small boats moor.” 

Unlike the nearby Amalfi Coast which attracts international throngs, Curnow says Santa Maria Castellabate “is very local, with many Neapolitans coming here for their summer weekend jaunts.” He describes the area as a “very inclusive tourist territory, where accommodation is spread out and varied, from historical dimore to beach resorts and accommodation in the hills leading to old Castellabate. There is something for everyone. It does get crowded here in July and August, so book early.”

For lodging Curnow suggests La Giacaranda, a boutique (six-room) property with a Mediterranean garden; and the apartments in the Palazzo Belmonte. [Palazzo Belmonte, a grand 17th-century structure overlooking the sea with a private beach, pool and five-acre garden, will be open this year from July 16 to the end of September. Rooms at Palazzo Belmonte start at €298 per night for two. Minimum stay two nights; special offers for bookings of four to seven nights.]

CALABRIA: SCILLA

Cassandra Santoro: “It may not be a secret anymore but Scilla, the myth-steeped town on the Strait of Messina, is still an affordable and fun seaside stop, one visited mostly by Italians. You will find sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters to enjoy during your stay. The beach clubs are also very affordable.Try a panino con pesce spada (swordfish sandwich) while at one of the beach bars for a delicious, no-frills lunch.”

After a visit to the beach Santoro recommenda taking a walk through the streets of the ancient fishing hamlet, Chinalea [designated one of the most beautiful villages in Italy], which is part of Scilla. “Stay until the end of day to catch a memorable coastal sunset.”

For lodging Santoro suggests Il Casato, a small hotel in a 16th-century seaside property in Chianalea with a noted restaurant. About a 15-minute drive from Scilla, Santoro likes the modern Blu Infinito; there are wonderful coastal views and an infinity pool.

CALABRIA: TROPEA

Francesca Montillo: “Tropea, known as ‘the pearl’ of the Tyrrhenian Sea, is a wonderful destination as it offers pristine warm waters, sandy beaches, ample water sports, an interesting historical city center and lots of delicious food spots. The town is also known for its seafood and famous sweet red onions, so the cuisine will be mostly fish based and those onions find themselves in countless restaurant dishes.” 

Tropea’s coast is several miles long, which Montillo says allows for a number of public beaches and plenty of opportunities to rent umbrellas at the beach clubs. The constant breeze that Calabria is known for makes it an ideal location for sailing and surfing, she adds. “Tropea is gaining recognition, so of all the beaches in Calabria, this one is likely to be among the most crowded, but for good reasons.” If you want to avoid the crowds, Montillo points out that Calabria, like Puglia, enjoys a long summer. “I always tell my travelers to consider visiting at the end of May and in June and September. You’ll still be able to enjoy the water, with less crowds and cheaper accommodations.”  

For lodging Montillo suggests several four-star properties: “Hotel Rocca della Sena is a beautiful seaside hotel within walking distance of several beaches. La Dolce Vita offers great views and is also within steps of several beaches. The Hotel Tropis is ideal for families and has a private beach.” 

CALABRIA: SOVERATO

Francesca Montillo: “If you want a location that is mostly frequented by locals or ex-pats returning home for the summer, I recommend Soverato. The water is especially clean, the sand is fine, and the crowds are contained. There’s limited spiaggia libera, or free spots, so unless you are renting an umbrella at one of the numerous clubs, get to the beach early in the morning. I recommend Lido San Domenico. All the beaches are surrounded by lovely caffès, so having your morning cappuccino before hitting the water will not be an issue. Visitors have the option to enjoy a large restaurant selection, gelaterias, bars, nightclubs, and long walks on the boardwalk.” Montillo says to stop by Pasticceria Perri, known for its great cappucino and morning pastries, and the large outdoor market held in the town on Friday.

When friends are visiting the area, she suggests stays at Il Nocchiero and Hotel Gli Ulivi. “In peak season, a room [standard double] at the Nocchiero is a little more than €100. A bargain considering the benefits, such as the location, its own beach, and all the other amenities you might expect in a hotel. Hotel Gli Ulivi is also around €100 per night. An excellent price for the quality and location, in my opinion. The proximity to the beach, shops and main boardwalk alone is worth it.”

LE MARCHE: SENIGALLIA

Cassandra Santoro: “Although Le Marche lies near Tuscany and Umbria, it is still an under-the-radar spot. Among the region’s offerings are stretches of beach and clear waters along the Adriatic Coast. The area is also known for good wines—verdicchio among many others—local cheeses and good restaurants. It’s a destination less visited by international travelers, amd hotels and restaurants offer reasonable rates, even in high season. While this area may be off the beaten path for many, it is still a favorite getaway for Italians, especially Romans, so book in advance. Some visitors even reserve beach clubs ahead of time for the summer months.”  

In Le Marche Santoro likes Senigallia, popular for its spiaggia di velluto (velvet beach), thanks to the soft sand. “There are many beach clubs and places to dine and relax whether you are a solo traveler or a family of five,” she says. Santoro notes the town is also ideal for an afternoon passeggiata. “Stop by the Piazza Roma, a local gathering spot, and the Rocco Roveresca, a 15th-century fortress and one of the region’s most popular sites.” In the morning Santoro says to visit Foro Annonario, a town landmark built in neoclassical style, where you’ll find food markets as well as various shops. The Rotonda a Mare is another landmark, right on the water.

For lodging Santoro says Terrazza Marconi is a place to consider if “you want reasonably priced and comfortable accommodations on the beach.” For a special dining experience, she suggests La Madonnina del Pescatore

LE MARCHE: CUPRA MARITTIMA

Philip Curnow: “Cupra is actually a town of two parts—a beach resort founded in the 19th century where Liberty-style villas still frame the waterfront, and an historic center where fishermen would return after a day’s work to protect themselves from marauding pirates. Locals are the main clientele of Cupra, which proudly flies its blue flag, Bandiera Blu [a designation indicating high-quality water and beach areas]. The sandy beach is wide and orderly—ball and racquet games are forbidden—and extends along the coast to neighboring Grottammare. Water sports like sailing are encouraged and surf canoes and pedalos are available.

Cupra is very economical even compared with the rest of the Adriatic Coast, says Curnow. “It has a handful of beach restaurants and pizzerias, but there are other dining options elsewhere, such as in Marano and opposite the town church. The beach fills up in August, but any other time in spring and summer it remains incredibly tranquil with the occasional sagra breaking the rhythm.”

For lodging Curnow suggests Casa Albergo Liberty, with 15 apartments, close to the beach. [Bookings in July and August are on a weekly basis, from Saturday to Saturday.]